Rule of law

Harassment of lawyers in Zimbabwe

Who we wrote to

The president of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

What’s the issue

We’re concerned about the ongoing intimidation and harassment of several lawyers in Zimbabwe. We’re concerned that these lawyers may have been repeatedly targeted because of activities carried out in their professional capacity as lawyers.

Until recently, Beatrice Mtetwa from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) was the leading counsel of a legal team that included Douglas Coltart and others representing the investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

On 18 August, a court in Harare ruled that Ms Mtetwa was to be removed from representing Mr Chin’ono on the basis that she was in contempt of court.

The judge’s order was made following an application from the prosecutor-general, alleging that Ms Mtetwa had operated a Facebook page called ‘Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law’ that was critical of the judiciary in Zimbabwe.

It has also been reported that the judge in the case also recommended that the Law Society of Zimbabwe revoke her licence to practise law.

Ms Mtetwa has strongly denied contributing to, or operating, the Facebook page in question.

Ms Mtetwa has been previously detained by the police due to her internationally recognised work of representing human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

In March 2013, she was arrested for “obstructing justice” while attending to a client whose home was being searched by the police.

She was subsequently charged and put on trial for allegedly using insulting language towards police officers, before being acquitted in November 2013.

It has also been reported that the Zimbabwean authorities deployed approximately 50 riot police to march in front of her law offices on 14 August 2020.

Mr Coltart has been previously arrested and physically assaulted by the police in Harare on multiple occasions, in connection with his representation of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ).

In May 2020, members of ARTUZ and Mr Coltart were summoned to court to answer charges of participating in a public gathering with the intent to incite public violence.

What we asked for

We urged the relevant Zimbabwean authorities to:

  • retract or amend any judicial or any other order interfering with Ms Mtetwa’s ability to carry out her professional functions as a lawyer
  • drop the charges against all lawyers facing criminal charges, unless credible evidence is presented to and against them in proceedings that comply with international fair trial guarantees
  • investigate without undue delay, thoroughly and transparently the physical assaults on Mr Coltart by law enforcement officers
  • respect the independence of the Law Society of Zimbabwe and abstain from any actions that interfere with lawyers’ ability to carry out their professional functions
  • make sure that all lawyers in Zimbabwe can carry out their professional duties freely and without undue external interference, hindrance or intimidation
  • ensure compliance with all Zimbabwe’s international legal obligations – specifically the right to liberty and security of the person and the right to a fair trial, as well as freedom from torture and ill-treatment

We continue to monitor the situation of members of the legal profession and other human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.

Timeline

18 August 2020 – a Harare court removed Ms Mtetwa from representing investigative journalist Mr Chin’ono on the grounds that she was in contempt of court

14 August 2020 – Zimbabwean authorities allegedly deployed around 50 riot police to march in front of Ms Mtetwa’s law offices

May 2020 – Mr Coltart and ARTUZ members were summoned to court

November 2013 – Ms Mtetwa was acquitted

March 2013 – Ms Mtetwa was arrested for “obstructing justice” while attending to a client

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